North spur hasn’t hiked Muskrat costs: Nalcor

Ashley Fitzpatrick
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Crown corp says pre-construction cost estimate still stands

The North Spur in the Churchill River. — Image courtesy of Google Earth

The North Spur is essentially a natural dam — a 1,000-metre long, 500-metre wide piece of land, jutting out into the Churchill River and forcing the river to narrow.

It is key to the province’s $7.7-billion Lower Churchill hydroelectric development and specifically the dam being built at Muskrat Falls.

Research has shown the spit of land is basically made up of sand and gravel, and is subject to landslides if it is left untouched.

It needs to be stabilized as part of the Muskrat Falls construction project.

The work is part of the project plan and, according to a spokeswoman for Nalcor Energy, it is not about to drive costs through the roof despite public statements being made by project critics.

Lawyer and former government policy advisor Cabot Martin has referred to the North Spur as “the weak link in Nalcor’s Muskrat

Falls project,” in an online presentation.

On June 20, Con O’Brien (@CONDESCENDANT) posted on the social media platform Twitter, “Nalcor is now floating 1 BILLION EXTRA to stabilize the NORTH SPUR! You might want to think about applying brakes!”

Nalcor Energy spokeswoman Janine McCarthy said any statements suggesting skyrocketing costs for stabilizing the North Spur are false rumors.

“That is not the case,” she said, responding to a question from The Telegram Monday.

“The cost of the stabilization work for the North Spur was included in the Decision Gate 3 (pre-construction) budget and the estimated cost of this work has not changed.”

At Nalcor Energy’s annual general meeting on June 5, Lower Churchill project lead Gilbert Bennett was asked for the exact, expected cost of the North Spur stabilization and the relevant geotechnical work.

Bennett said he could not provide specific cost estimates since Nalcor was entering into a bid process for contracts for the work.

As previously reported, erosion through land slides on either side of the North Spur was first brought under control in the early 1980s, when a system of pumps to remove water from the land was installed.

For the Muskrat Falls build, a feasibility study for a Lower Churchill development was published in 1999, stating examination from 1979-80 had shown the site could support a hydro project, “although stabilization measures would be necessary to prevent

continued landsliding from breeching the spur under existing conditions.”

Additional pump wells, as backup to the existing water removal system, were recommended alongside other stabilization measures, including a rockfill barrier on the upstream face of the spur.

Meanwhile, TC Media has a representative based in Happy Valley-Goose Bay set to take part in a media tour of the Muskrat Falls project site today — including a look at the North Spur.

Organizations: Nalcor Energy, The North Spur

Geographic location: Churchill River, Decision Gate, Happy Valley Goose Bay

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  • BC
    June 26, 2013 - 09:39

    Good morning Vision 2041 crowd, see you're still chasing these stories. It's an estimate, I suspect the geotechnical engineers who bother with this sort of stuff have a better handle on it than those armchair observers glazing over photographs and finding landslides in reflections. Estimates are, by definition, estimations. The price will be set went the contracts are let.

  • Confused
    June 25, 2013 - 20:45

    This article states that the Lower Churchill hydroelectric development and specifically the dam being built at Muskrat Falls will cost the province’s $7.7-billion dollars . I thought it was going to cost $6.2 billion dollars. Why is this article quoting $1.5 billion more? Is this a symptom of the cost over-runs that were touted to occur, if so how much will this project accrue in cost over-runs?

  • Just Sayin
    June 25, 2013 - 19:51

    Maurice, no fix is certain until the underground surveying and analysis is done. That is rational. And this is why they pay games with this issue. A fix may be a big issue or not so big, so they gamble, with all our tax dollars. It will expose them whether they are world class engineers or world class in deception and high risk takers. And this is but one risk of many for this project. But why should this behaviour by Nalcor make you sick and tired? The truth is that there is a lack of reasonable certainty that this project is economic. You want the truth, but you already know the truth. But you want Nalcor to admit this. Fewer and fewer question question this project, at least in this forum. Most Nflders are happy it is proceeding, either because they they don't know the high risks involved or don't care. Ignorance is bliss they say. You seem to have a handle on most of the risks, and it takes considerable research and some intelligence to reach the conclusions you make. Your conclusions may indeed be wise ones. But this wisdom, such as it may be, are at odds with the statements from Nalcor, and it makes you sick and tired. This suggest that wisdom may cause unhappiness, and ignorance may very well be bliss. If this is so, what is the value of wisdom? Now if enough become wise, they also become unhappy, and when those in power see enough unhappiness, perhaps they may change policy. Do we need a happiness indicator? A happiness poll? Remember when our licence plates stated we were the Happy Province? As Joey squandered our public dollars on useless schemes.... and declared we were all happy. If only more were unhappy. But under democracy, ignorance and stupidity can prevail, at least until there is sufficient wisdom and dissent. I have met too many who are happy for the short term benefits of this project, even if it is a failure for the province. And this project all hinges on the question "do we need the power"? Minister Kennedy said that can be answered by "looking into the crystal ball". You may rightly prefer more scientific methods, like best practises. But most Nflders seem contented with the crystal ball approach. Is there more than one in a hundred who even heard of the North Spur problem, or even care? Is it Nalcor that makes you unhappy or the majority who don't even care? That is the truth that's harder to handle, is it not? You are the most consistent critic of this project, but largely ignored by Nalcor. But other very credible critics get the same mistreatment. But don't quit. For those seeking information, your truth, while not absolute, is of considerable value to any reader interested in this subject. As to the North Spur, over the years the stabilization estimate has gone from 11 percent of the project cost down to 2 percent. And all that speculation was done without knowing the extent of the problem. Another six months we should know which was right. If only 2 percent, there remains the question, Do we need the power? Perhaps Cabot martin is wrong, and this may be the weak link? It is not good when there is more than one weak link. When there are many weak links, you're just not world class. They seem to believe their own propaganda.

    • B Fudge
      June 26, 2013 - 10:52

      Bla, Bla, Bla! An awfully long-winded statement. If you want to educate and thereby change opinions on this project, might I suggest you loose the condescending attitude and stop blowing hot air. Try stating your opinion first, then back it with some facts. Wow!!!

  • Tony Rockel
    June 25, 2013 - 12:19

    Stabilizing the North Spur isn't Nalcor's only problem: look uphill from the spur and you'll see an even bigger landslide hazard with ample evidence of slippage in the recent past. And if you look at SNC Lavalin's job description for their recently hired engineer you will see that North Spur stabilization is far from a done deal. Nalcor is whistling in the dark.

  • Maurice E. Adams
    June 25, 2013 - 11:00

    The DG3 cost estimate was based on only 50% of the overall project design having been done......... I would expect that the cost for a design fix for the North Spur would have at that time been minimal, after all that was before Nalcor itself said (just a couple of months ago) that the engineering design work for a fix for the North Spur would have until the end of 2013 for completion..... Also, a completed design fix would FOLLOW full geotechnical work, not precede it, and Nalcor is still doing such underground surveying and analyses work as we speak........ So, how can a realistic cost estimate be included in the DG3 costs, when a recent engineering design fix has not even yet been found, developed and costed?..... I want the truth, and I am sick and tired of misleading and incomplete statements by Nalcor. ...... When asked (repeatedly) a very straight question at the AGM whether a fix for the North Spur landslide problem would require a "supplemental structure", Nalcor's Mr Gilbert Bennett repeatedly threw the issue back at the legitimate questioner by repeatedly directing him to "define 'supplemental structure'".... Thereby avoiding and not answering the question whether some form of additional dam would be needed..... If Nalcor has a technically and economically feasible fix, an answer could have and should have been forthcoming....... Why wasn't it? Is it because Nalcor wants to wait until the province is so far in over its head that it will have no choice but to approve the construction of a very costly, additional, "supplemental structure" (in effect, a 3rd dam) at God knows what cost to ratepayers?